Castle Rock State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains is giving hikers the royal treatment with a brand-new park entrance. The Robert C. Kirkwood entrance and visitors center is exactly what you might demand from a Silicon Valley favorite outdoor space: free Wi-Fi, downloadable trail map app, plenty of parking, picnic areas, and trail connections!
Use the app, or go old-school and grab a brochure with a map at the park ranger’s office.
Then head out on a 6-mile loop showcasing some of this park’s best stuff. Start on the Waterfall Connector Trail, which immediately descends into a valley filled with moss-covered fir and oak trees.
Follow the path to the right after the first footbridge, onto the Saratoga Gap Trail. After crossing a second footbridge, follow the Ridge Trail and signs to Goat Rock, the first of many giant natural outcrops exposed after repeated tectonic shifts from the nearby San Andreas Fault.
Continue along the Ridge Trail as you pass through a mix of madrone, Douglas fir, and coast redwood forests. Occasionally you will burst out of the forest to amazing views of the surrounding hills and nearby parks. Take your next left after passing Russell Point and follow the signs listed for the Saratoga Gap Trail, which travels along a lower section of ridge. The exposed area and steep drop-offs are covered in chaparral and rocky outcroppings. From here you have a wide-open view of the forested Santa Cruz Mountains for miles.
After nearly 2 miles, you’ll reach the massive Castle Rock Falls, with great views from the platform. Continue on Saratoga Gap Trail, crossing the footbridge and following signs to Castle Rock. Ascend to the peak.
Near the top, multiple offshoots lead you to your final highlight: the sculpted, cavernous sandstone of Castle Rock.
To make your way back to the parking lot, pass the restroom and follow the signs to the old parking lot. A connector trail leads you back to the Robert C. Kirkwood entrance on the far side of the old parking lot near the restrooms.
Thank the Sempervirens Fund, California State Parks, Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, and other partners for making this happen.
The new Robert C. Kirkwood entrance is located a quarter mile north of the old entrance. Google Maps. Restrooms are available at the entrance and at Castle Rock. Water is only available at the entrance. Parking fee is $10 and can be paid in cash at the desk when an attendant is on duty or via credit card at the pay station. No dogs.